The National Academies

NCFRP 45 [Final]

Enhancing Sleep Efficiency on Vessels in the Tug/Towboat/Barge Industry

  Project Data
Funds: $300,000
Research Agency: Northwestern University
Principal Investigator: Kathryn Reid
Effective Date: 10/11/2013
Completion Date: 6/30/2015
Comments: Published as NCFRP Report 36

Human error related to operator fatigue is a major concern in all freight operations. The general consensus is that 7 to 8 hours of sleep per 24-hour day is required to maintain acceptable levels of alertness, minimize fatigue, and permit optimum performance. A long-standing and preferred practice of crews in the U.S. towboat inland waterway industry is to work/rest in alternating 6-hour shifts, commonly referred to as a square watch system. Each crew member has a total of 12 hours on duty with 12 hours off duty per 24 hours, and it has been customary for crew members to obtain sleep during both of their 6-hour off-duty periods. While there are no hours-of-service regulations beyond the 15-hours on duty limit, 46 U.S.C. 8904(c) gives the Coast Guard authority to establish them. The Coast Guard (Federal Register/Vol. 76, No. 155, August 11, 2011/Proposed Rules) stated that it was considering “requirements to increase uninterrupted sleep duration to a threshold of at least 7 consecutive hours in one of the two available off periods ….” Strict adherence to such requirements would ban the most common work schedule in the towboat waterways industry. Recent laboratory data (Mollicone, et al. 2007 and 2008, Lutzhoft, et al., 2010) suggest that sleep can be obtained in more than one sleep period, referred to as "anchor sleep/nap sleep," and that as long as the total duration is 7 to 8 hours, performance is comparable between a single sleep period and two separate sleep periods.  Therefore, it is important to determine the impact of an anchor sleep/nap sleep strategy in the inland waterway setting. It is also important to assess the implementation by towboat personnel of existing educational materials such as the Coast Guard Crew Endurance Management Practices and towboat industry materials to aid in the optimization of such strategies.
The objective of this research is to develop a compendium of best practices for enhancing sleep efficiency on towboats in the U.S. inland waterway industry.  
Accomplishment of the project objective will require at least the following tasks.
(1). Participate in a 1-day kickoff meeting with the NCFRP in Nashville, Tennessee. The meeting will be hosted by Ingram Barge Lines. (2). Identify and describe the metrics that will be used to evaluate current operational interventions (e.g., educational materials and programs; noise abatement; sleep disorders screening especially sleep apnea; and wellness and nutritional programs) for their effectiveness in improving sleep efficiency on towboats.  (3). Evaluate the use of anchor sleep/nap strategies on sleep behavior among personnel in the inland waterway industry.(4). Identify barriers that inhibit waterways personnel from adopting good sleep management practices and propose ways to overcome the barriers. (5).  Prepare a list of best practices that could be implemented by the waterways industry, companies, crews, or individuals to enhance sleep efficiency. (6). Three months prior to contract completion date, prepare a draft final compendium of best practices for enhancing sleep efficiency on towboats in the U.S. inland waterway industry and a report documenting the results of the research.
STATUS: Published as NCFRP Report 36.  An electronic version of the report is at


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